When it comes to ranch-style sorting, the rules are simple. Two riders on horseback have one minute to get a bunch of cattle to exit the pen in numerical order. The team that sorts the most cattle in the shortest time wins.
But actually doing it, said Dave Wolfe, is a different matter.
“From sitting in the stands, it can look easy,” explained Wolfe, president of the Ranch Sorting National Championships. “But when you’re out there in the arena with two horses, two riders and 11 cows all thinking something different, it can be very challenging. It’s a finesse game.”
The regional championships of the sport are taking place at Fuji Park this weekend, drawing about 750 teams of two to Carson City.
Jim Lindsey of Washoe Valley began competing in a similar event, team penning, in the 1980s at the University of Nevada, Reno. At 69, he no longer travels the circuit, but he registered for the sorting competition because of its proximity.
“It’s fun,” he said. “And it’s not a judged event; it’s a timed event so politics don’t come into it.”
The sport has its roots in common ranch work, when cattle need to be sorted from the herd for a variety of reasons including doctoring or branding.
“That’s where we derived it, from working out on the range sorting cows from calves,” Wolfe said. “We brought it to town and made a game out of it.”
People of all abilities will compete for purses up to $2,000 or $3,000, along with belt buckles and saddles.
“We have all different levels, from grandma on her trail horse to the expert cowboy on a good cow horse,” he said.
This is the first time the Ranch Sorting National Championships, a group that has 19,000 members across the United States and sanctions about 400 competitions annually, has brought an event to Fuji Park.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” Wolfe said. “We’re tickled to death with it. We’re excited to be here, and we’ll be back.”
The national championships will be next month in Fort Worth, Texas.
The competitions begin at 9 a.m. each day and run into the early evening, and there is no admission charge. Concession stands are provided by the Elks Lodge 2177, Kiwanis of the Sierra and the Emblem Club 503.
Wolfe said he hopes spectators will stop by.
“We would love people to come watch,” he said. “Once you figure out what’s going on, then you root for the cows or you root for the horses. One or the other.”